Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2023

Troubadour International Poetry Prize 2023

The following prizewinning poems were chosen by our 2023 judges, Mona Arshi & Tom Sleigh (see judges’ reports & poems below):

  • First Prize, £2,000, Traceries, Jennifer Harrison, Windsor, Victoria, Australia
  • Second Prize, £1000, A child’s Christmas in alcohol, Simon Walsh, Brattleboro VT, USA
  • Third Prize, £500, Zebra haworthia, Jane Wilkinson, Norwich


Commended poems:

  • The King’s Raven, Afra Kingdon, Northam, Devon
  • The Influencer’s Prayer, Anne Casey, Northbridge NSW, Australia
  • Generational Trauma, Bronagh Mallon, Belfast
  • Zulu, Catherine Edmunds, Bishop Auckland, Durham
  • This is also true, Charlotte Salkind, London
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics, Deb O’Rourke, Toronto, Canada
  • Sometimes Life, Deveraux Baker, Mendocino CA, USA
  • The Ilium, Diana Valk, Surbiton, Surrey
  • Landscape with inner child, Jane Lovell, Lynton, Devon
  • Dust, Jane Williams, South Launceston, Tasmania
  • hostage situation, Kate Kruimink, Cygnet, Tasmania
  • Five Sleep Potions for Troubled Nights, Leah Larwood, Plumstead, Norfolk
  • my mother, wearing a pencil skirt, in a meadow, Liz McSkeane, Dublin
  • Olly and Pepper are safe, Martyn Crucefix, London
  • Calling on the New House, Mick Wood, London
  • Sharing a Koch with You, Nicky Melville, Edinburgh
  • No More Wind, Peter Ross, Honiton, Devon
  • The House Where Benjamin Zephaniah Didn’t Live, Sallie Durham, Lewes, East Sussex
  • Mary Shelley’s Babies, Stephanie Green, Edinburgh

2023 judges’ reports

Mona Arshi writes…

Judging an international poetry competition is both a joyful and fretful task – fretful as it’s always filled with some level of trepidation, but the joy lies in recognizing how much poetry matters to people and how familiar the concerns are, no matter the time or the world issues pressing upon us. There’s also the joy of unlocking the box of poems and being surprised by poems you encounter for the first time. Personally, I love that moment when a poem strikes a chord and you are compelled to suddenly slow down and reread, and then sit in stillness. So many of the commended poems as well as the three winners of course had this effect.

The most difficult part in judging a big completion like this is when you and your fellow judge have whittled the submissions down to a really excellent shortlist but are then tasked with narrowing those poems down still further! I once judged a competition where my fellow judge referred to this phase of judging as ‘butchering baby unicorns’! One of the great things about the Troubadour Prize is the number of commended poems that we can honour, poems that have stayed with us and are valued by the judges.

I want to thank my fellow judge Tom Sleigh for making this such a pleasurable activity: together we landed on poems that we both felt strongly were firing on all cylinders. I have often asked myself what makes a winning poem and if there’s a secret ingredient? How does one even begin judging the best in this most ephemeral of arts? There’s no readily identifiable formula but looking back at the process I can say that the poems that rise to the surface are those where the poets themselves step instinctively and lightly out of the way, to reveal the poem itself as if it’s always been there. Or to quote the wonderful US poet Stanley Kunitz, ‘a poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing about…’

Third prize winner, ‘Zebra haworthia’, is a richly descriptive poem which arouses the reader’s senses so we leap into another zone. Second prize, ‘A child’s Christmas in alcohol’, is a wonderful yet unsettling poem animated by a voice which simply delivers emotional truths. The first-prize poem, ‘Traceries’, is one of those poems that stops you in your tracks. From that first line,‘This faint lick of a poem about a brother’, you realise you are in the presence of a poet who has absolute control of their material. I particularly admired the voice and the leaps from the concrete to the abstract in this elegiac, beautifully calibrated poem. It does what all good poetry does, keeps the ear awake and feeling familiar, but renewed with new language.

Tom Sleigh writes…

Fifty years ago, when I’d just turned twenty, I read a poem discovered by a poet’s daughter, one that she’d found in her father’s papers after he’d died, and that she included in a posthumous edition of his poems. The editor’s headnote told me that the poet had been an insurance executive who lived in Hartford, Connecticut, and that he wrote his poems in between his insurance duties as a surety claims expert. Nothing but nothing could have been further from my own experience. I was a surfer dude who worked for a swimming pool contractor. We charged our clients ridiculous sums of money for what my boss called “landscaping.” We’d find an old rotting log, spray it with ungodly amounts of pesticide, lacquer it inside and out, and then place it poolside for that “natural touch.”

Despite our differences in age and background, the poem astonished me then, and half a century later it astonishes me even more—especially since I’m close to Stevens’s age when he wrote it. I love the poem, every moment of it, but these lines flash in my head—unbidden but always deeply affirming—whether I’m feeling grief, happiness, or just the via media of daily life:

           Light the first light of evening, as in a room
           In which we rest and, for small reason, think
           The world imagined is the ultimate good.

           This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
           It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
           Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

           Within a single thing, a single shawl
           Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
           A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

These lines embody for me an essential quality in the poets I read for the Troubadour contest. They recognize how poetry is something homely like that shawl wrapped around our shoulders—a shawl that can warm us and fortify us against our own public and private “indifferences.” I was privileged to read poets who lifted me beyond “aesthetics,” “craft,” “technique.”

The place they transported me to was a place of communion, but one arrived at by a kind of self-forgetfulness. As Stevens writes a few lines later, “Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.” The line suggests that moment of composition in which a poem is still an inkling, a possibility that wants to realize itself through us—but not necessarily because of us. Yes, for convenience sake we call Wallace Stevens the author, but the place he wrote the poem from shrugs off that self-assurance as well as his and our self-absorption. Poetry’s primal creative impulse bypasses the boom or bust of our egos and even our own artistic intentions. And when we read a poem or write it, “We make a dwelling in the evening air,/In which being there together is enough.”

But is being there together enough? That’s the essential question each of the three poems that we chose—not so much as winners but as exemplars of a particular way of writing—kept asking. The phrase that haunts me most in Stevens’s poem is the one least likely to be noticed. It seems like a throwaway, but in fact for me it’s the heart of the matter, the worm in the pith: Stevens knows it’s “for small reason” that “the world imagined is the ultimate good.” His faith in poetry is just a hunch, a hope, not even an act of faith. And yet he persists in wanting it to be so. This contradiction is at the heart of that so-called “ultimate good.” We have no real reason to think our imaginings are anything but wisps, frail stabs at significance, dubious attempts to make the world and our desires line up like iron filings under the influence of a magnet.

Of the three poems, “Traceries” approaches head-on this conundrum between our desires for what art can be and our doubts about what it actually is. At the same time, it’s by far the most oblique of the poems. Its quick shifts between sorrow and the grittiness of day-to-day life offer a salutary challenge to the reader, as if to say, Pay attention, pal! This isn’t going where you think it is! What starts off as a poem about conjuring a brother runs aground by the second quatrain. The more evidence you gather about the brother, the less visible he becomes. The irregular enjambments of each quatrain, in which the rhythm staggers irregularly forward like a punch-drunk boxer, show the speaker struggling—and failing—to find a stable place from which to view the world. But the poem’s faithfulness to that perception is one reason why it so stands out.

“A child’s Christmas in alcohol” is also a poem of doubt, but a gesture of communion toward the poet’s father. While the father is a drunk and has hurt his family and his children, in the poet’s nuanced depiction the old man emerges as a shrewd wit, as well as the kind of “dangerman” that kids, particularly puberty-age boys, find irresistible. So many poems of this kind follow a rote, “poor me,” therapeutic pattern. But in this poem, the old man’s sardonic humor has been passed down to his poet son. He’s learned at his father’s knee that booze and “boiled sprouts” and “the headless baby in the manger” aren’t simply ludicrous class markers that separate them from their caravan-towing neighbors. They are also signs of the sacredness of the individual heart, in which love comes in lots of forms that our culture tends to discount or outright condemn. Yes, the speaker is estranged from the father—that’s the “for small reason” part of the poem. But in a complex mixture of love, regret, and loss that makes this poem both funny and sad, the old man knows “how to snap a wishbone.” And while his wish is devastating to his family (“He’d hide his eyes behind his hands, then slowly, sadly, peer out—/Damn! It didn’t work. You’re all still here!”), nonetheless they’re in on the joke. As the poem amply demonstrates, being there together isn’t enough; but what the poet has made of that lack is indeed “an ultimate good.”

In “Zebra haworthia” the poet finds “the miraculous influence” in the pleasures and strictures of accurate perception. The act of “washing pollen off my face” is laden with erotic possibility, even as it’s treated with the precision of the serious gardener. For this poet, to pay close attention to the plants’ growth is a good, in and of itself, but nowhere is the descriptive writing merely descriptive. It’s part and parcel of an erotic urge that is continuous throughout creation, while also pointing to the possibility of communion between two unique people seeking a richness of feeling and renewal after loss.

           …I also report
           the Zebra plant has launched a thin, green

           flowering wand, finer than coat-hanger wire, half
           a metre of hockey-stick trajectory, right over

           the bath. I have read they must feel safe to be this
           optimistic. If it were describing a long orbital return

           to its mother-earth, it has survived the dark side,
           has made that crucial swerve, reset the coordinates.

In a way we have come full circle with these lines in that the poet, like Stevens, understands how contingent and chancy our lives are, and how “for small reason,” we nonetheless keep hoping for new coordinates to assert themselves. To survive the dark side is what all three of these poets do, not in any programmatic way, but feeling their way forward in radically different forms. The poet’s question, “Is it too early in the evening to be talking about love?” is not so much a question as an assertion of hope that we can “collect ourselves/Out of all the indifferences, into one thing.”

My deep thanks to Mona Arshi for perceptive insights and shared exploration of that “intensest rendevous”, the place where writer and reader meet, and for the discussions that brought us to our final decisions. And I really want to thank all the poets who entrusted us with the responsibility and pleasure of reading their poems, each poem pursuing its own form of excellence.

2023’s Winning Poems

First Prize, £2,000


                      This faint lick of poem about a brother
           that will never be finished
that sifts through the tracery of photographs
           with synthesising eyes

                      until a stranger emerges
           from everything that was familiar
into an absence where emails unexpectedly arrive
           and some letters are never written –

                      sorrow is ≠ sorrow’s gesture
           and grief is flow     persuasion
obstinate as a tap clogged with plug-gravel and limescale
           water drip drip dripping –

                      morning sun trickles
           across paintings in a white receding hall –
brushstrokes and careful fretwork
           in place     calcified     aging –

                      sky stretches
           its gruel-thin clouds over unkempt lots
muddy building sites…
           the birds sing I don’t want I want I don’t

                      a sonar as broken as classic FM radio’s
           arial-less semi-busted static
that smooths out the drive to work and back along the Nepean –
           on weekends shadows fuss

                      over clay paths littered with discarded masks
           and bottle tops
concertina-crushed aluminium cans
           A4 paper planes – sullen and rain-damp –

                      you walk through Windsor Siding Park
           past BMX-gouged sand dunes
the new acrylic basketball court
           a green oasis of irrigated council lawn

                      unleashed dogs kick out their joy
           play-biting the sun
kids shoot hoops with a ball like a hive
           our lifetime you say to the nettles in the grass

Jennifer Harrison

Second Prize, £1000

A child’s Christmas in alcohol

When Elon Musk was getting creamy life lessons at his mother’s breast,
and young Stephen Jobs was still working out of his parents’ turtlenecks,
I was home mouth-breathing watching dad build a cold fire straight
on the concrete hearth, when the local ironmonger would’ve sold him

a brand new grate for less than the price of a bottle of gin.
But when it comes to alcohol, you have to start off
by taking the blame yourself, or otherwise
you sail your ship upon the Aral Sea of lies.

Naturally, I didn’t trust grown-ups who didn’t get regularly blotto
but stayed home reading in slippers behind double glazing,
or organizing jars on shelves in their garages,
or washing and towing their caravans to Cornwall.

And I thought we were the only ones who took Christmas Day seriously
– a word the neighbors might’ve used ironically
looking in through our curtain-less windows
at the little fishes wriggling in the netting of their DNA.

On Christmas Eve we got sent up the road with the big bag
to load the order from the wine merchant into the canvas hold
and carry it back one pair of hands on each handle –
poster children for The War Cry.

Finally, after rustling up a feral tree from the Forestry Commission
and pinching a clay face onto the headless baby in the manger,
we were ready to partake in the overcooked mystery
of the many boiled sprouts become one.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever afford a Christmas like this again”,
ran the old man’s sardonic autocue, “so make the most of it.”
And the winter sun chimed
across the sparkling colors of the drinks table.

One thing the old man did know was how to snap a wishbone –
“Close your eyes and make a wish!” we’d shout down the table.
He’d hide his eyes behind his hands, then slowly, sadly, peer out –
“Damn! It didn’t work. You’re all still here!”

Simon Walsh

Third Prize, £500

Zebra haworthia

I was washing pollen off my face, beside the basin
the Zebra succulent you gave me, medusa bold

and creaturely with tactile stripes. I had nearly killed it
on the hot window-sill. When its parched tongues

creased I portered it about the house in search of home.
Under the cloudless skylight it yells up to the sky

– it lives well. I love summer evenings like this,
the air the same temperature as my skin, effortless

in the lungs and the world an open window. Distant
outbreath of cars travelling home. Nearby the pond

aerating. I’m in the present, in the garden, pending
your arrival laden with groceries, burdened with news.

Is it too early in the evening to be talking about love?
This afternoon I unchoked the shaggy border,

from its purple choir, individual notes of salvia,
lavender, were whittled out of weeds, the agapanthus

onion-dome buds are opening soon. I also report
the Zebra plant has launched a thin, green,

flowering wand, finer than coat-hanger wire, half
a metre of hockey-stick trajectory, right over

the bath. I have read they must feel safe to be this
optimistic. If it were describing a long orbital return

to its mother-earth, it has survived the dark side,
has made that crucial swerve, reset the coordinates.

Jane Wilkinson

2023’s Commended Poems

The King’s Raven

Afra Kingdon

The Influencer’s Prayer

Our feather
which art in headband,
haloed be my fame.
Thigh thindom come,
my swill be spun
on TikTok
as it is on Instagram.
Give me
my say on daily spreads
and free-gifts of glamorous guest-passes
and sweet free-gift clothes
of best-class dimensions.
And lead me out into acclamation—
bonus delivery trucks will be full.

For fine is the income in the browser and the story
wherever, whatevs,


Anne Casey

Generational Trauma

‘Generational trauma,’ she said,
like it was some treasured artifact or hand-quilted coverlet
passed down from a dear old Granny.
Oblique squares of mis-matched cotton, discarded remnants,
still vibrant enough and patterned enough
to merit inclusion in the great design.

A queen-sized throw that stretches beyond a modest reach,
wide enough and veined through with hidden back stitches,
padded out with wisps of foam and wafts of flotsam
of the remembered, the half-remembered or the deliberately forgotten.
Filled, stuffed, crammed with all the stubborn stodge needed
to add substance and weight to the shape of the thing.

Mine holds film reels, spools of wiry ribbons,
beginning in the black, and white and grey of the dark under path
where kneecaps explode and suddenly, red runs ragged in clotted rivulets.
Wizard-of-Oz-like they bloom into full technicolour
and the screeching wail of the green-faced Saracen
whooshes in and inflates the air with held breath.

New square, the charcoal sentries of ArmaLites line up on parade,
incongruously erect against the pastel blue sky of wallpaper
printed with gay patterns of fluffy clouds and frivolous clusters of balloons
which dangle in regular clumps along the hemmed-in walls.
An innocent backdrop for the heavy garrison which stands to attention
around the child’s crib in the box room where Granny slept until my brother came

Snippets of cloth passed down through each generation,
so many squares, so many threads, binding, gathering, tightening,
boxing in and around the repeating arrangements with a solid rim
that defines the overall colour palette, sets the pattern,
delineates each patch and dictates the pace and repetition
of the continuous theme.

Bronagh Mallon


You have become a shallow teaspoon, though you claim
to be a binaural soundscape of the electromagnetic fields
that surround us, you’re one of those people who tell me
not to swear, what not to wear. This is becoming tiresome.

I pick from a box of Black Magic, an hourly punishment
that produces an ache of assimilation. You look up from
your paper, tell me that spaghetti doughnuts exist. Boredom
is the brother of rest. I want to do more than exist

between your marginal and interlinear glosses, odd rubrics,
deadly scripts. I hand you a cup. You may experience tea dilution.
The darker amber street signs say it all. Something essential
is missing: a limb, perhaps, lost under the railway bridge,

en route to Preston Circus. The lilies in the kitchen bloom wildly,
smelling of bacon. Two packs of chocolate fingers are all I have
to sustain me, plus a pelican, crossing the road, and a riot van
sent to keep the public out of a public library. I’ve called the police.

We part, but then in late December, signs of a thaw,
you turn up again, whimpering of wives, husbands, hatred.
You want your tea. All the squares are numbered, you place
your scone on 53, your teacup on 49, remove your false eye,

complain of loss of data, swirl it around, pop it in your mouth
and swallow. I pour more tea, you’re rambling. The first time
we met, you were singing of home. I knew I should rise and go,
but you said, good riddance, and gave me a list for signing

in and out of your life. There’s an oozing of desperation down
the mountains, through channels of concrete, discreetly designed
by architects before they were armed and sent to war. The winter
evening settles down, we’re stifled by truth. I call it love.

You call it wanting food. If you do not love someone, you never
loved them at all; there are no more flies zig-zagging around
the ceiling. If you want this to work, you have to request a miracle,
something incredible like Michael Caine’s acting in Zulu.

Catherine Edmunds

This is also true

I knew I was planning to live when I began crossing streets
at traffic lights– in the eleven beats I looked from left to right
and let all things turn to green. I knew it again that weekend,
packing towels for the sea. I knew I’d be leaving.
My mum once sent me a text to warn me a woman died
from eating carrots: it said she turned orange and she died :-(
with an emoji of a carrot. There are a lot of ways to die
and in these six months I have imagined most.
Have you lived here? Did you get back holding spinach,
like a woman who has not yet given up,
did you watch them set an ambulance on fire?
Have you added up the worst things in the world
and come out with a total that dissolves you?
Are the walls in trouble breathing? This is also true–
the day we swam out way into the Mediterranean
and took off our bikinis and tied them to our heads
until a lime-green snorkel popped straight up
and waved and grinned and you almost threw up laughing.
This is also true, the morning I woke up too in love to sleep
and got up to make oven chips; the voicemail that opened up a sun-hatch
to the rest of my life. About living I haven’t learnt much,
I just keep finding pieces of blue glass on the tarmac
and picking them up, and I have made this mosaic of beautiful things
which I guard with my life, knowing it might save my life.
In June the osteopath, a kind man, takes the whole weight
of my head into his hands and moves it delicately,
until my neck can feel no pain. He says something like,
let’s get this machine working better,
it’s got to last you six more decades
and my eyes are filling up. That’s the world’s best trick–
how each time I think I’m done, it asks me to begin again
with so much tenderness, and when I roll my eyes
it doesn’t falter. It just takes my face
between its hands, it says again.

Charlotte Salkind

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

Distances between atoms are vast, say
physicists. Yet spacetime is a continuum,

the universe a stretching balloon skin,
spooky action at a distance—inevitable.

Distances between people—also complicated.
We juggle the paradoxes of positive and

negative, order and chaos, irreversibility and
uncertainty, the looming threat of entropy.

As pressures surge, our temperatures rise.
We quiver, careen and bounce off each other.

Friction turns up the heat. Our agitations beat
at the piston. In physics terms, we do work.

We are the fuel: compressed, released, ignited.
We are the metals: mined, smelted, and cast.

We are the fuel. We are the piston. We are
the gleaming chrome fenders. We are

the body of the car where families, lovers
and strangers glide—where we kiss, abuse,

recluse, medicate for depression. We are
the medicine. We are the stains on soft

leather seats, the halogens that light our path,
the gearshift worn smooth by the sweat

of a hand. We are the wheels that scream
against the road, the smoking broken brakes.

We are the fuel. We are the brakes. We are
the piston, beating down beating down beating

down on us.

Deb O’Rourke

Sometimes Life

I did not want to love him
that old dog your son left behind
when he went to re-hab.
I did not want to love his crippled body,
his soulful eyes, those beat up boxer ears
and crumpled tail.

But you drove, as a father will, the long road
through stands of Redwoods, through Bay Laurels,
the tender light of Chestnut trees and Manzanitas.
You drove all the way from the coast deep
into Pomo-Land, determined to save him.

He was hiding in a backyard world of
abandoned things, broken toilet bowls,
rusted sinks, sad tricycles and plastic toys.
I did not want that dog, a constant reminder
of everything that went wrong.

But sometimes life is a flaming car,
there is no driver, and you are in the back seat
becoming a dream of yourself
until the taste of ash reminds you
of one summer in your youth
when the horizon was endless

and you were still able
to climb over the front seat of any flaming car
and grab the scorched steering wheel
and fumble for the brake.

So months later in spite of myself
at the end when he could no longer walk
I wrapped him in a favorite quilt
pale blue for longing, dark green for hope
my hand on his head, his head in my lap.
Together we sat, waiting
for whatever it is that comes next.

Deveraux Baker

The Ilium

I still recall the night he traced his thumb
along the ridge of my hip. What’s this bone?
He asked, his voice a whisper. Ilium.
I said. He puzzled at this term, unknown
to him, then said it back, the word entwined
around the curves of his accent. That sweep
of bone so close under the skin – designed
it seemed to fit beneath his palm. I keep
that memory close, a token I caress,
till margins smooth and details rub away.
Now what remains, only the boney crest
ensconced along my side. I feel for that day,
follow its edge with my hand until
it fades under a pliant weave of muscle.

Diana Valk

Landscape with inner child

make her small

choose the backwash, the landfill
do not furnish it with tracks or buildings
have sea but make it distant

thread a taut wire that joins past to present
secure it on a chain of pylons
call it dread

add some spidery birds in a watery sky
use the edge of your brush, grey
on grey wash
             green tempered with black
for purslane, sea beet, aster

submerge a light aircraft
its wingtips pleating chevrons
in the last mudslick slide towards estuary
             know the pilot lies slumped below
lungs billowing algae

do not provide anywhere to hide

suggest by lowlight, silhouetted stance,
a storm inside
the colour of waiting

use a fine brush for the wire:
cut the landscape
bring it right into the foreground
call it dread

sit quietly and wait

he’ll be home soon:
voices in the hallway
            then his foot on the stair

Jane Lovell


Brother, I get it, why you loved Bowie
on the sly at first. He was the ultimate
double-edged, out of body experience
for a generation of sons hung up
on the phobias of fathers who never knew
the soul too could be flexed.
Years later when your ex-model girlfriend
tried to turn me Blonde and I somehow
ended up a shade shy of Carrot
it reminded us all of the Aladdin Sane cover
it’s schizophrenic pun on a lad insane
and no expense spared on the airbrush.
We sat around then listening
to Space Oddity and feeling homesick
for homes we never had.
Does anyone know anyone
who was struck by lightning?
This from your housemate who sat
at the kitchen table as if it were
inscribed by the finger of God
and was so altered by a steady diet
of mushrooms that when we made
eye contact the only magic we saw there
was pocked with dead stars leaving nothing
but common household dust in its wake.

Jane Williams

hostage situation

There is a dream in my head, where I do not say yes, do not stay with him
(he twice my age, because his equal would know better).

In the dream he reaches for me and then gravity – which is, after all,

just a theory –

unlatches and we drift up
and his car drifts up and
the watching sheep clutch their final tufts in their teeth as their legs lift from the
until the grass tears and they drift too,
cloudlike among the clouds,
and we all rise sweetly into the upper layers of the air,

and sure, he dies. He freezes, or maybe suffocates,
while I, immune, not needing to breathe, to circulate blood, to regenerate my cells,
I find my way to the surface of a sunrise moon pinned light and unmoving against        my own stake in the great cup of atmosphere.
And lightly, the sheep land all around me,
dip their heads and begin to blunt their teeth on the moonrock.
I give myself to them instead, a shepherd
there to tend and guard, although there are no dangers.
We adapt.

But there was no such release, nothing drifting but the usual,
the dust, seeds, scents,
the misdeeds rising like vapour from the bodies of those who think themselves        justified.

The sheep, innocent, hooves firmly planted, did not watch me go.

            This is probably not a kidnapping (I said to them)
            although please memorise his face.
            I am probably fine.

You know what he wanted. He took me in darkness to his house. And when I tried        to leave, me teenaged, alone, foreign,

he locked the door, and said,

and this is no longer a poem,

this is now journalism,

he said,

‘I will let you out in the morning.’

Kate Kruimink

Five Sleep Potions for Troubled Nights

I ~ Moon Daisy (Ox-eye): For Night Coughs
While the world loses its mind in reverie, this fleur de la nuit
revels in moonlight, casting shadowy hopes with its long stem,
large extrovert face beaming up at the moon. Unlike its sibling,
the garden daisy, the Ox-eye daisy never sleeps. Use leaves
in salads or steep flowers to make a ribcage-soothing tea.

II ~ Poppy: The Insomniac Plant
Take a teaspoon of tincture before bed to aid sleep. Remember,
harvest the common red Papaver Rhoeas, not the opiate variety,
Papaver Somniferum, which can cause slurred speech, confusion,
memory loss, pupil constriction, dilation and possible death.
Soak the petals in vodka and sip in between the sheets of unrest.

III ~ Mugwort: The Lucid Plant
For calming the nerves or as a way to lucid dream, this herb will
also relieve the soreness of feet. Found in waste lands and hedgerows,
Mugwort is a mild psychoactive also taken for hallucinogenic effect.
Dried leaves make a bedtime tea. While lucid, explore the basement
of your dream and befriend your shadow, mood-dependent.

IV ~ Hemlock: The Big Sleep
Best consumed in a salad or soup – but only if you wish to dive
deep beyond dream, and wake inside another. Hemlock grows
in small erect umbrella clusters. Flowers develop into a green, deeply
ridged fruit. Part of the carrot family and Socrates’ choice of poison:
leading to asphyxia and a fixed, sardonic grin upon death.

V ~ St John’s Wort: Fear of the Dark
To soothe nightmares, bad dreams or fear of the night, make
a St. John’s Wort Pillow. Fill a small cloth bag or old pillowcase
with flower tops, fear, and any undesirables you have to hand.
Stitch or tie the open end firmly shut. With a small knife,
make an incision and gently place the bag under your skin.

Leah Larwood

my mother, wearing a pencil skirt, in a meadow

it’s a dark pencil skirt and she’s the first
girl in Dublin to get one from Madame
Nora’s of O’Connell Street with a crisp
white blouse and the sheen of fine silk stockings
black patent stilettos tossed on the grass
she leans back slender legs curled up and crossed
at the ankle yet one hip tilted towards
the camera right arm stretched above her head
some kind of flower a daisy I guess
in the other hand a half-smile playing
on her lips that glint of mirth in her eyes
the cloud of blonde hair gleaming in the sun
a first date but no they’ve known each other
longer than that still far too smartly dressed
to go walking in the country though grand
for a stroll in the park perhaps tempted
by a lush meadow to kick off her shoes stretch
out while my father steadies the camera
to frame her reclined figure as she smiles
those eyes luminous with the same vital
beam she fixes on me not long before
they decide to take her off the fluids
and she tells me that I mustn’t forget
to clean the fridge the very sparkle
you’d have once thought would be immortal

Liz McSkeane

Olly and Pepper are safe

Rectangular blue shapes on the pavement
       like dying moths beneath his feet
or the motionless dead their blue upper wings
and the paler white beneath where he walks
       through the Whittington Hospital’s rolling doors
he is feeling more than a little delirious

as at last he leaves another double shift
       in the rammed ICU the bleeps and the shallow
laboured breathing and the vacated beds
cleared swiftly as a busy table service
       and emerging now he has to shield his eyes
with that same morning’s unread newspaper

against the glare of streetlights
       against the foggy black of a freezing London night
against the dazzling fireflies of raised phones
above the hats and heads of what he takes
       to be relatives or a gathering of grieving people
but they are articulating some sort of refusal

that his tiredness makes hard to grasp
       they bump and push and are standing close
they shout even into each other’s faces
into his face their chance to trample masks
       into the pavement to shove and swing placards
into the face of this wicked thing

even to knock from a weary doctor’s hand
       a colluding newspaper in which a page
of yet to be read national news reports
two newborn toms rescued from a bin-liner
       from a conveyor belt on their way to the recycling crusher
and thank goodness there were eagle-eyes

and thank God swift action was taken
       and here are assurances beneath the headline
that now the pair will be hand-reared
and names given before a process of adoption
       and statements issued by concerned officials
there are not enough kittens in the news

Martyn Crucefix

Calling on the New House

                  ‘Stealth’ home architecture reflects deep anxieties operating                   as systems of protection and social filtration.
                  ROWLAND ATKINSON AND SARAH BLANDY, Domestic Fortress

All that can be seen of the new house from the street
is a white wall, a camera lens and an intercom.
There’s no number or name
and the front door is so well hidden
that the entire facade is a blank page
with one sans extra bold exclamation mark
in the footer, into which you now talk.

No one answers. When you put your ear to the wall
you hear nothing. No music, no conversation,
no explosions from a cinema room,
no whirring of washing machine or blender,
but you can tell, don’t ask me how,
that someone’s home and watching you.

Perhaps a housekeeper. Perhaps they’re all out the back
in a pristine pool or lounging on a hardwood deck
under olive and lemon trees in great alabaster planters.
Perhaps they’re having a barbecue and you’ll be invited.
Perhaps he works in finance just like you.
Perhaps he drives the new Lexus
and has a labradoodle and his wife
will become your new best friend.
Perhaps you’re going to have an affair with him.

That could end badly. Behind the white wall you find
the back of a white wall painted white
and a camera lens high up looking down on you.
The back door is so well hidden that this back
of a blank page is a blank page with one
sans extra bold full stop in the header.

‘Out the back’ is a patch of scrubby weed
littered with rubble and a broken plastic trike.
A dishevelled elf sits on a rusty oil drum, sniffing
nitrous oxide. Over all of which stands the new house
just one brick deep. A blank page. A white
monolith. Perhaps they’re all underground.
Or in another dimension. Hopeless as it seems
you carry on looking for a way in,
beating on the wall till your knuckles are bloody
and your voice hoarse from screaming.

Mick Wood

Sharing a Koch with You

Nicky Melville

No More Wind

When Brixton grew its corn,
these roads were all green lanes
wide enough to take two teams,
each field was stacked with sheaves
and winds came soaring through the tilted sails.
Inside the tower it is cool and dark;
I climbed a ladder through its floors,
past cogs and bins and turning gear;
from the window at the tower’s top
I saw wild oats.
A block of flats reflects the sun,
traffic galls the hill, barbed wire staggers
round the prison wall, a message reads:
Millwall rules fuck windmills.
We live in a dwelling of hunger.
No more wind to turn the sails,
no corn plumping in the sun.
The hands are poised, immobile
as a broken clock, saying
cross my heart the time is past.
From the allotment there’s a clash of iron on brick.
From the prison stack stiff smoke, rising.

Peter Ross

The House Where Benjamin Zephaniah Didn’t Live

When I was young and my life had come unspliced
like a B movie on the cutting-room floor
I lived in a London street in a Victorian chopped up house
and they said that Benjamin Zephaniah
lived upstairs. I waited for a tread on the stair
the long swing of dreadlock hair

tempting as bell ropes in a country church
but he was never there. So I guess it was a fantasy
that Benjamin Zephaniah lived in the same house as me
but he was on a different trajectory, a dolphin
through the toothsome city.

Waifish in my body and brain
poems were for people with something to say
and young white punks into dub reggae, and when
my mama said, Do you still go to those reggae do’s?
I think she meant Black Uhuru.

John and Mandy were loving spiders
under the Victorian floor of my too too solitary room
in the house where Benjamin Zephaniah was never there
and somewhere a woman called Mel who was in a cult
and bothered me with her piggy stare.

We tried a party, white punks and culty types
with creepy stroky hands. She made the best hummus.
Benjamin Zephaniah was on the guest list but he wasn’t there.

I sat cross-legged on my too too solitary floor
in a black beret and a cigarette eiffeled in my mouth
white lace jumble gloves posturing my days
like someone in film noir and hoping to see Benjamin Zephaniah
so he’d think for ten seconds I was existential.

And if we’d met how could we have spoken poetry
when I hadn’t read The Waste Land

reeled into the wasteland of my film noir messy jumble sale life
where no birds sang and no blossoms graced an April sky
where there was only hot concrete and wet concrete
and never a frame of him

just a celluloid seep of invisible spores that lifted me and lifts me still
above spidery Victorian solitary floors.

Sallie Durham

Mary Shelley’s Babies

                  Arabella Row, London, March 1815

I dreamt Clara moved.
Her eye lids flickered. So cold,
skin clammy as a new-born kitten.

Frantically, I rubbed her limbs
and warmth spread beneath my fingers
as if I had the gift of life.

                  Venice, September 1818

Fever. Convulsions.
How cruel in a heat wave.

They found me, mute, standing in the hall
holding our second child, dead, in my arms.

I see on the Lido’s desolate shore
the moon blank as her grave.
Waves wash over the unmarked spot,

lost as the drops from our oars
dipping past decaying palaces.

                  Rome, June 1819

If only we had left
before the malarial fogs arose.
Sweat darkens our little boy’s hair
tousled on the pillow. Dearest Willmouse,
no longer will he dance throughout our days.
Darkness spreads over all our lives.

                  Villa Valsovano, near Livorno, late summer, 1819

On the parched summer plains,
I am gravid, like the sunflowers,
brown and withered, turning from the sun.

I lie in the dark of stone walls,
deaf to the grape-pickers’ calls,
unmoved by fire-flies at dusk.

                  The Villa Magni, San Terenzo, near Lerici, June 1822

It’s night and at high tide the sea creeps into our boat-house.
We lie above, listening to the surge and gurgle, to the knocking
of spars and tackle under the floor-boards. I dream of babies,
turning in the tide.

At noon, heat shimmers above the jetty.
Guitar music from Ariel floats across the waves.
I lie, land-locked, retching on the quay-side.

When the haemorrhaging starts, Shelley plunges me
in a bath of ice, but our baby’s life-blood leaches out.

My horizon is ringed by electric arches.
Shelley sees a child who walks on water,
with outstretched arms, radiating light.

Stephanie Green

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